NJ Residents Support Legalizing, Taxing, Regulating Marijuana

While we are now on our typical academic summer hiatus, today we are releasing results of some polling we did in April on the legalization of marijuana. These questions were part of our last Rutgers-Eagleton poll, but because we were working with a partner, the NJ Chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance, we had not released them before. The results show continuing support in NJ for changing the status of marijuana. As we showed in April 2014, most NJ residents support at least reducing or eliminating penalties for using the drug. The newest poll asks the question a little differently, about support for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and over. That provides significant context; as a result we find overall that 58% support this, significantly higher than last year’s 49% who supported “completely legalizing” marijuana.

The Drug Policy Alliance involvement came through an undergraduate survey research class taught by ECPIP Director and professor of political science, David Redlawsk this past semester. In the class, students work with non-profits and interest groups on developing, fielding, and analyzing survey questions, which are added to a standard NJ statewide Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. DPA is an advocacy group, favoring legalization of marijuana. However, while their staff worked with the students to identify the topic for their questions, the final decision on the questions rested, as it always does, with professional ECPIP staff, in order to ensure that the questions asked were done in accordance with best practices to minimize potential bias. As always, we release the full text of the questions so that you can decide for yourself.

The text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the text, questions, and tables.



NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A clear majority of New Jerseyans supports legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and over, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released today. Just under one-third of residents strongly support making marijuana use legal, assuming it would be taxed and regulated, while another 26 percent somewhat support the idea. Twelve percent are somewhat opposed while 27 percent are strongly opposed.

An April 2014 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll found that while about two-thirds in New Jersey favored eliminating marijuana possession penalties, just 49 percent supported “completely legalizing” the drug.

“The trend in New Jersey mirrors the nation as support for legalizing marijuana continues to grow,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “The question we asked this year is more specific than in the past, specifying that legalization would come with taxes and regulation and would apply to adults 21 and over. That likely accounts for some of the jump from 49 percent support a year ago to 58 percent today. But no matter how it is asked, we have seen a long-term upward trend in support.”

Most New Jerseyans do not consider legalization a priority. While 20 percent call legalization of marijuana a “very important” issue, more than twice as many Garden State residents (45 percent) say it is “not very important.” The rest are in the middle, with 22 percent calling this issue “somewhat important” and 12 percent saying it is “somewhat unimportant”.

New Jersey state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union) has introduced a bill legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults. Senate Bill 1896 and its companion in the Assembly, sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon and Mercer) and Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union) create a system similar to Colorado’s, with marijuana regulated like alcohol at every step of the production and sales process.

“More than 22,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010 at a cost of more than $125 million dollars,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “But this poll shows a significant majority of New Jerseyans believe in changing this policy so marijuana can be legally taxed and regulated for adults, the same as alcohol.”

The questions about marijuana were developed in consultation with the NJ office of the Drug Policy Alliance. The marijuana support question was the subject of an experiment where some respondents were randomly prompted that marijuana would be regulated “like alcohol,” while others were not. Analyses show that the variation in the question made no significant difference; accordingly this release reports on both versions combined.

Results are from a statewide poll of 860 residents contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from Mar. 27 – Apr. 3, 2015, with a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were completed in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Democrats, independents, millennials strongest supporters

While there are no differences between men and women, or by race in support for legalizing marijuana, there is a noticeable split between Democrats and Republicans. More than six-in-ten Democrats support legalization (39 percent strongly and 25 percent somewhat), but just 41 percent of Republicans agree, with only 18 percent of GOPers strongly supporting the idea. Nearly half of New Jersey Republicans (46 percent) strongly oppose marijuana legalization, double the strong opposition from Democrats. In general, opinions of independents are much closer to those of Democrats than Republicans, with 33 percent strongly and 28 percent somewhat backing legalization.

“Differences between Democrats and Republicans are highly predictable,” said Redlawsk. “But this version of the question – legalizing, taxing, and regulating for adult use – garners much more GOP support than we saw a year ago when we asked about ‘completely legalizing’ marijuana. Then only 28 percent of Republicans agreed; here it is 41 percent. Providing detailed context seems to make much more of a difference to Republicans than Democrats.”

Age also matters: senior citizens are about half as likely as other New Jersey residents to strongly support legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana (at 18 percent), and are the most likely to oppose it (13 percent somewhat, 38 percent strongly). Millennials – residents who are 18 to 34 years old – are most likely to show strong support (at 38 percent), though middle-aged New Jerseyans are not far behind, with about one-third of those aged 35 to 64 also strongly supportive of change. Millennials also show the least strong opposition by far of any other age group: just 18 percent oppose, compared to a quarter or more of every other age group. As with other issues, such as same-sex marriage, younger residents are very different from those of the Baby Boom generation.

Issue very important to both strongest supporters and opponents

While a plurality thinks marijuana legalization is not very important, residents with the strongest feelings, whether pro or con, are much more likely to consider the issue very important. One-half of strong opponents of legalization see the issue as very or somewhat important, while 62 percent of residents who strongly support legal marijuana say the same. Those who do not feel strongly about legalization in either direction see the issue as far less important: only about 22 percent of these Garden Staters think legalization is a very or somewhat important issue.

“For many New Jerseyans, the issue is not high on their radar, but for strong supporters and opponents, it really registers,” noted Redlawsk. “This is one reason why laws related to marijuana are tending to lag behind public opinion, as strong supporters and opponents are equally balanced and seem equally motivated, while most other New Jerseyans stay in the background.”

New Jerseyans: Use tax revenue for education

Advocates for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana regularly emphasize that tax revenue from the sale of marijuana could generate millions of dollars to fund projects across New Jersey. Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington) and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana.

Given a list of uses for new revenue that might come from legalization, 36 percent of residents say education should be the top priority, while 20 percent would first dedicate new revenue to drug treatment programs. Transportation infrastructure comes third, with 15 percent making it a top priority; nine percent would focus on social services, and three percent on corrections and prisons.

There are large racial disparities in preferences for revenue allocation. Almost half of non-white residents – 46 percent – would prefer funds go to education, compared to 30 percent of white residents. On the other hand, non-white residents are less than half as likely as white residents to mention transportation and social services.

While partisans of all stripes agree education should be the top priority, Democrats are most likely to say this, as well as to mention social services. Republicans are just a few points more likely than others to allocate revenue to transportation. Men and women are mostly on the same page, but men are slightly more likely to prefer transportation funding, while women are almost twice as likely to identify social services as the priority.

Education funding is the overwhelming priority with Millennials – at 54 percent – while other age groups are more evenly divided between the options. Seniors are the most likely to say revenue should go to drug treatment programs (31 percent).

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